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“Are we there yet?” How to survive a long car journey with precious cargo

Usborne's digital content guru Emma Baxter shares her top tips on surviving the dreaded family car journey... 

My children HATE car journeys!  My in-laws only live four hours away but driving along a boring motorway with three young children in a very small space has made those journeys feel much longer than necessary. Of course, every child is different, and we all have different parenting styles but I am going to share some of the lessons I’ve learned to avoid the crying, moaning, bickering, boredom and sickness in the backseat!

Comfort and Safety

Safety first and always. As wonderful as contented children are, the driver’s safety must come first. We can all put up with bickering and moaning in order to arrive at your destination in one piece.  I’ve been known to put on my headphones for my own sanity so that I can concentrate on the road!  However, if you, your partner, or passenger is in a safe position to do so, here are some suggestions to entertain the children:

Babies and toddlers

It’s highly likely that very young children will fall asleep in the car.  That’s all well and good, but if you’re following any type of routine and your baby doesn’t do well out of routine, you may consider setting off just before nap time and stopping somewhere on route for some playtime, change and a feed. RoSPA recommends babies should not be in their car seats for longer than two hours at a time, so breaks during long journeys are essential for baby and driver. Control the temperature of the car and consider a window shade if bright sunlight is shining onto the car seat.

If you have a baby who hates being restrained in their car seat for long periods of time, the best in-car entertainment for very little children is singing nursery rhymes, little toys and board books which can be attached to their car seat.

Pre-school and school-aged children

The biggest tip here is be prepared!

  • Comfort: As with babies, control the temperature and consider window shades to keep out direct sunlight. Consider bringing a neck pillow, or regular pillow and don’t forget the favourite teddy or comforter.
  • Music: Make a playlist beforehand or have some favourite CDs handy. We wait about 15 minutes into the journey after the initial excitement has worn off and the children start to get restless. Music keeps the emotions high and keeps the boredom at bay a little longer.
  • Water and snacks: Make sure you have a stock to hand. As tempting as it is to ‘bribe’ the children, too many sugary snacks are much more likely to reappear later all over the upholstery. Keep the snacks healthy: little sandwiches, fruit, carrot sticks, rice cakes…etc. Either stop somewhere safe or if you eat on-route expect crumby spills and a have good car clean when you return!
  • Games: After the snacks have been devoured boredom begins to set in. Now’s the time for a game. Keep 50 Things to Do on a Car Journey in the glove compartment. Here are our favourite games:

1) Car bingo

Set a time limit (eg 10 minutes). Each passenger picks a popular colour of car (blue, silver, black…) and as you drive along in one direction keep an eye on the cars coming the other way. As soon as a car passes you in your chosen colour you shout bingo! And keep a count of how many blue cars that pass before the time is up. The winner is the person who has counted the most cars in their chosen colour.

2) Pack a picnic

One person starts with saying “For our picnic, I’ve packed…” and name any edible(ish) item, eg “a mud pie”, the next person has to remember your item and add on an extra item, eg “For our picnic, I’ve packed a mud pie and a strawberry smoothie.” The list of things to remember gets bigger as the game progresses (and no doubt gets sillier) until the list is too long for anyone to remember! You can of course make up alternatives to this game, eg ‘In my suitcase I've packed…” or “For my birthday I would like…”

3) Rhyming road signs

As you pass any road sign you take it in turns to make up a silly rhyme.  Eg “There was a man on Station Road, who fell in love with a spotted toad”.

4) 21 questions

One person thinks of a person you all know (famous or otherwise). Everyone else in the car has to ask a question that prompts a yes or no answer. Eg is the person a female? Does the person live in our town? … etc. If the questioners haven’t guessed the identity of the person in 21 questions, the questioned person wins!

5) Fortunately, unfortunately

This is a silly story-telling game. The first person starts by introducing a character. The next person has to add a sentence that begins with “Fortunately…” The next person adds on to the story by starting the next sentence with “Unfortunately...” and you keep alternating “Fortunately” and “Unfortunately” until you run out of ideas. 

Eg “Yesterday an alien landed in my garden”

“Fortunately, I was having a BBQ so I offered it a sausage.”

“Unfortunately, it didn’t like sausages, so it got angry.”

“Fortunately when aliens get angry they giggle.”

“Unfortunately…. etc etc”

6) Word association

The first person starts by naming any object, Ee “ball”. The next person has to listen to the word and immediately say the first word that comes into their head, which could be “game” for example. The next person has to name the first thing that comes into their head when they hear the word “game”, for example they might say “x-box”. The word association continues until someone hesitates for too long and they’re out.

7) Would you rather…?

This game requires some imagination, but it elicits some great discussions. Each player takes it in turns to make up two scenarios and asks the other team members.

Eg “Would you rather never have to brush your teeth, or never have to do your homework?”

Or “Would you rather have unlimited time, or unlimited money?” Everyone has a chance to explain their answers.

  • Audio Books: It’s highly likely that you will tire of the games before the children do. If they’re fidgeting and bickering, now’s the time to control the mood again but putting on an audio story.
  • iPads: I know from experience that too much time looking down at an ipad is sure to lead to car sickness. We use ipads in the car for playing movies only. We have a special ipad holder that can fit over the back of the front seats in order to keep the ipad and eye-line up high. Of course, you’ll need to download a movie before you set off.

If you have any other tips please share them with us!

50 things to do on a car journey

50 things to do on a car journey

50 cards with simple activities to keep young children occupied on long car journeys. Includes games, puzzles and quizzes using everyday objects found inside the vehicle or seen out the window.


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